The sigma-subunit of bacterial RNA polymerase (RNAP) is required for promoter-specific transcription initiation. This function depends on specific intersubunit interactions that occur when sigma associates with the RNAP core enzyme to form RNAP holoenzyme. Among these interactions, that between conserved region 4 of sigma and the flap domain of the RNAP beta-subunit (beta-flap) is critical for recognition of the major class of bacterial promoters. Here, we describe the isolation of amino acid substitutions in region 4 of Escherichia coli sigma(70) that have specific effects on the sigma(70) region 4/beta-flap interaction, either weakening or strengthening it. Using these sigma(70) mutants, we demonstrate that the sigma region 4/beta-flap interaction also can affect events occurring downstream of transcription initiation during early elongation. Specifically, our results provide support for a structure-based proposal that, when bound to the beta-flap, sigma region 4 presents a barrier to the extension of the nascent RNA as it emerges from the RNA exit channel. Our findings support the view that the transition from initiation to elongation involves a staged disruption of sigma-core interactions.